Advance entries for the UK barista championships have shown some very promising trends - and some surprises.
One of the biggest surprises is that a contract caterer, the giant BaxterStorey organisation which supplies catering services for a large collection of blue-chip companies, has entered four of its staff. BaxterStorey is sufficiently serious about coffee to have its own barista academy, but this is still a notable arrival from the contract world. It is joined in the lists by an entrant from Elior UK (previously Avenance), the UK's fourth-largest contract caterer.
It is of course no surprise that the major high-street coffee chains are not represented in the entries - they never are, despite constant attempts to encourage them to compete. The nearest we have to a big high-street coffee name in the list is Howard Barwick of J & S Ventures, which is a Costa franchise in Leeds. Howard recently won the Brasilia barista championship run by the Caffe Society company. This should leave the biggest remaining high-street name in the contest as Krispy Kreme, which has promised to enter its two top baristas.
Several other interesting names are to be found in the entry lists - several of the newer breed of London coffee houses are represented in their regional event, but so are several trade suppliers. There is an entrant from Drury Tea and Coffee, and a repeat entry from First Choice Coffee. There is a contestant entering for Peros, the UK's biggest trade supplier of Fairtrade beverages, and also one from Union Hand-Roasted, the London roastery which has also distinguished itself in ethical sourcing (notably with its work in rescuing the coffee trade in Rwanda).
From elsewhere in the UK, there are entries from two of Edinburgh's most notable venues (Artisan and Kilimanjaro) and in the south-west, no less than three from the new Jika-Jika in Bath, the café launched by rugby internationalists.
The other major surprises are that the London heat is so full - and that the Irish one is cancelled through lack of entries. In recent years, the Belfast representation has been notably strong, with a heat always full of very talented baristasâ¦ but this year, nobody. Five people did finally get round to entering after the heat had been cancelled, and they have been found places in the Glasgow regional event.
In recent years it has been the London event which has been cancelled for lack of interest. This year, however, competition in the capital will be stronger than we can remember.
The finals of the UK barista championship will be held at the Hotelympia show at the end of February. The UK champion will go forward to the world event, to be held at the Caffe Culture show in late June.
And, as has already been strongly pointed out in the main coffee trade press, for the world championship to be held in Britain is the biggest single promotional angle that any beverage or hospitality company could wish for in the development of its coffee business!
By Ian Boughton